Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maile Meloy's "Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It"

Maile Meloy is the author of the story collection Half in Love, and the novels Liars and Saints, shortlisted for the 2005 Orange Prize, and A Family Daughter. Meloy’s stories have been published in The New Yorker, and she has received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2007, Meloy was chosen as one of Granta’s Best American Novelists under 35.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, the story collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and reported the following:
This is an exchange from the story “Two-Step,” in my collection Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It. It takes place in a kitchen, between a husband, his pregnant wife who suspects he’s sleeping with someone else, and her friend and confidante, Naomi:

“Who was it who said that marriage is a long struggle for moral advantage?” he asked.

“Someone bitter,” Naomi said. “It shouldn’t be. It doesn’t have to be.”

“As I was driving back here from the gym,” he said, “I was thinking about the time I did summer stock at a theater in Colorado, because my older sister was doing it and it seemed like a way to meet girls. And how everyone was isolated, and thrown together in a place they wouldn’t be otherwise, and nervous energy became sexual energy. There was friction, and suspicion about who was doing what with whom, and some of it was founded.”

“I told her we’re having a baby,” Alice said.

“You told her we’re having a baby,” he repeated.

Naomi watched him: his strong hands, the pained look on his face. He had the intelligence that physically beautiful people have, because other people confide in them, but he had real intelligence, too. It was irresistible, even when he was acting indefensibly, as he was now.

It’s the kind of exchange I like, in fiction: not everyone knows the same things, and what they do and don’t know is revealed gradually in the dialogue. The whole story is about that kind of revealing. And the story is definitely about people who want things both ways.

I don’t know who it was who said that marriage is a long struggle for moral advantage. A friend of mine thought it was in Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That, but I looked and couldn’t find it. (Though it might have fit in there.) So it’s in the story as one of those lines that might be misremembered, by someone who reads a lot but isn’t sure where it came from. If anyone recognizes it as a quotation, let me know.
Read an excerpt from Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, and learn more about the author and her work at Maile Meloy's website.

The Page 69 Test: Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It.

--Marshal Zeringue